The best way to absorb a city is of course by exploring it on foot. In addition, some of Istanbul’s ancient streets are so small a car barely fits in it. And with Istanbul’s huge traffic jams in the city center, it is often even a time-saver.
But before you rush out of your hotel to hit the streets, go over my pedestrian safety tips – they may save your life!
Car Is King in Istanbul
Car-free zones are rather scarce – the Princes’ Islands being a huge exception to the rule. In recent years efforts have been made to create semi-pedestrian zones in the city center as well. The most famous ones are undoubtedly Sultanahmet Square and the area surrounding the Spice Bazaar in the historical part of Istanbul; and Istiklal Caddesi, Taksim Square and Ortaköy in the modern part of Istanbul. Nevertheless, keep in mind that the car still rules in Istanbul.
Istanbul Pedestrian Safety Tips
- unless you’re on a pavement or pedestrian crossing, you have little to no traffic rights as a pedestrian
- unless a pedestrian crossings is controlled by traffic lights, it is considered street decoration and traffic won’t stop for it
- even if the pedestrian traffic light shows a green light, don’t cross until you’re sure traffic has come to a complete standstill
- don’t start crossing the road when the pedestrian light is about to turn red as drivers often jump lights
- always use pedestrian overpasses and underpasses on main roads – no matter what you see the locals doing
- a one-way street is no guarantee vehicles will only come from one direction – always look for traffic coming from both sides
- public transportation (with the exception of metros and trams) doesn’t always halt at special designed stops and sometimes even let people get off in the middle of the street. Double-check for traffic (especially motorcycles) while getting off
- although Istanbul is among the safer world cities, ask local advice before exploring streets outside the usual tourist areas
- in crowded streets, beware of pick pocketing
- never walk in unfamiliar streets or backstreets after dark – Istanbul taxis come rather cheap after all
Bear these rules in mind, and you’ll be doing just fine. And don’t let this list scare you either, walking Istanbul’s crowded streets is very pleasant – especially in spring and autumn, when the weather isn’t too hot.